"Non" Québec Sovereignty Referendum Celebration, 20 May 1980 - Tom Haythornthwaite
Québec Sovereignty Referendum, 20 May 1980 - Tom Haythornthwaite

Notes from north of 49ºN

In California, identity politics is a way of life.  Ask Pete Wilson, ex-Governor of California on how Latino politics can derail a career, as detailed in a LA Times magazine article from 2004.  The same article highlights Republican concerns with shifting demographics::

“Many Republicans view the mushrooming Latino voter rolls in the same way a person looks at a growing mole: One hopes it’s benign but fears for the worst.”

Unlike in California where immigration is resulting in dramatic demographic shifts, here in Canada, a hot-button issue is Québec separatism that stems from centuries-old disputes.  The province of Québec has a distinct francophone culture when compared to the rest of predominantly anglophone Canada and this cultural divide naturally affects politics at both the provincial and federal levels.

Currently, at the federal level, Canada {with a variation of the Westminster parliamentary system} has a minority government {plurality of parliamentary seats} with Conservative Stephen Harper as Prime Minister.  Minority governments tend to be unstable.  Indicative of this, the Conservatives had a scare last December when Stephen Harper angered the other parties, bringing the country to the brink of Constitutional crisis.  Recent polls in Canada showed that about half of the voters wanted a more stable majority government, where one party has a majority of the seats.  Moreover, recent polls indicated that support for the Conservatives is dwindling, likely leading to a situation where the Conservatives and Liberals have close to the same number of seats, further deadlocking Parliament.  An article a week and a half ago by the Montréal Gazette brought up a controversial argument::

“Quebecers more than others have it in their power to break this log-jam, by taking a more active hand in national governance instead of ‘parking’ their votes with an increasingly irrelevant Bloc Québécois. Had Quebecers voted for national parties in the same proportion as other Canadians in the last election, we would have a majority government. The instability of minority times makes the government of Canada weaker, which serves the sovereignists’ interests but not the public interest.”

This assumes that Québec voters are more interested in federal governance than Québec interests.  In Québec, the Bloc Québécois {BQ} is a political party associated with sovereignty for the province.  Its raison d’être is promoting the identity politics of francophone Québec at the federal level.  While I’ve noticed the BQ numbers slipping since the 2008 election on the ThreeHundredEight blog, the Gazette’s line of reasoning is unlikely to lure enough Québec voters to the Conservative or Liberal camps.  According to an EKOS poll, the federal vote intention in the in Québec shows a plurality of support for the Bloc::
Federal Vote Intention-July 2009
Federal Vote Intention-July 2009 EKOS

The 2008 federal results in Québec saw BQ making a strong showing with 49 ridings {seats} of 75 in Québec and 308 in Canada. The map below shows Bloc in light blue, Conservatives (PC) in dark blue, Liberals (LP) in Red, and New Democrats (NDP) in orange. The Bloc is strong throughout the province, while the Conservatives have support in a few rural areas, and the Liberals and NDP have appeal in or near the cities of Montréal and Ottawa.

Federal 2008 Election Results by Ridings in Québec
Federal 2008 Election Results by Ridings in Québec
The relative popularity of the Bloc introduces a challenge at the federal level, one of identity politics.  Last month, Liberal Party of Canada {LPC} leader Michael Ignatieff showed how hard it is to manage perceptions in Québec as the leader of a Canada-wide party. While promising restoring funding to the arts and appointment of Québecers to cabinet posts, he also said he has no plans to give Québec any special powers, if elected as Prime Minister. This opened the Liberals open to criticism in the province by rival parties.
“It’s the same good old Liberal Party of Canada that wants to put Québec in its place.”
–Pierre Paquette, Bloc MP Joliette

“It shows that he’s not only been out of Canada for 35 years, he’s never known anything about Québec except what he learned at Upper Canada College and, frankly, I’m not afraid of him a bit.”
–Thomas Mulcair, NDP MP Outremont
The nuances of the issue of sovereignty and its manifestations is far too complex to go into here, so suffice it to say that concerns of Québec as a distinct society are far from settled. According to Andrew Cohen’s The Unfinished Canadian, Québecers are more likely to be ambivalent towards the idea of a federal Canada, which isn’t that surprising. Stephen Harper has done precious little to appeal to Québec, while Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, in my opinion, doesn’t help things with statements like::

“The best possible Canada is a Canada where Québecers are in power…The Bloc Québécois is not a solution for a better Québec and Canada.”–Michael Ignatieff, 3 June 2009 at a Montréal fundraiser

While Ignatieff may have had his reasons, the Bloc represents a set of meanings to many Québecers and I fail to see the upside of antagonizing the Bloc. The tories went after the Bloc earlier in the summer, accusing the party on being soft on pedophiles because they didn’t support tougher legislation on minimum sentencing for child trafficking. The ads haven’t affected polls and the Conservatices are still falling behind. Having appeal in Québec requires subtlety. As stated above, Harper hasn’t done much to appeal to Quebecers, but Conservative writer Bob Plamondon in a Macleans article gets at the heart of the matter. Harper needs to understand culture in order to build social capital::

“I don’t think it was so much that those specific policies were abhorred by Quebecers…because in the scheme of government activities, they are relatively minor issues. But they spoke to larger issues—does Stephen Harper understand Quebec and can he be trusted? I think Quebecers drew the conclusion that he’s disconnected from them. They couldn’t identify among Harper’s team a particularly strong lieutenant who had near-veto power over what went on in Ottawa with respect to those matters that are of particular concern to Quebecers.”

I don’t see that happening, but I can see him using fiscal controls on Ottawa as an appeal to Québec and fiscal conservatives in other provinces.
While the Bloc’s fortunes have waxed and waned over the years, the party is currently in an era of resurgence.  The Bloc’s clout with almost 16% of Parliament representing a culturally distinct region is a good case study for California legislative politics, if we assume Latino political identity strengthening.  Latino population does not equate to a homogeneous population with similar political interests, as there is diversity within.  The question remains: Can there be a strong Latino political identity that spans regions and demographic categories?
Web 2.0 & Politics
In the francophone Québec blogosphere, the following catchy Bloc video went somewhat viral in 2004 in the pre-YouTube era, as part of the “un parti propre au Québec/a party proper to Québec” campaign.

Videos like this show how parties can energize voters and generate buzz for a campaign.  Given how 41% of younger voters under 25 support the Bloc {see above table on federal vote intention in Québec} and how Bloc support skews younger, I expect to see more Bloc use of Web 2.0 in the future, i.e., more use of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and possibly MySpace.
What about Web 2.0 and Latino voters in the US?  Pew Internet research does show that in the US,  Hispanics tend to be younger and online less than other ethnicities.  Nevertheless, Hispanics 18-29 are online the most for the ethnicity at over 60%, although this percentage is lower than black or white counterparts.  Latino cell phone owners are more likely than their white counterparts to send/receive text messages, at 49% vs. 31%, respectively.  Given that Latinos trend younger and the younger Latinos are online the most, I expect to see greater usage of social media targeting them, using online and SMS {texting} media.  Brandweek is citing 65% use of social media by Latinos, particularly with MySpace and MySpace Latino.  The challenge will be politically engaging Latinos in a way that’s relevant to them.
While many of the following issues may be unpopular due to their divisive nature, is this the globalized political reality we’re in?
  1. How will globalization shape California identity politics?
  2. Will culture serve as a political rallying point?
  3. Strengthening of identity politics caucus/coalition powerbase{s}
  4. Use of cultural distinction socially & politically
  5. Strategies of mainstream politicians/parties to negotiate with or combat a caucus/coalition
  6. Use of Web 2.0 & SMS technologies & social media to politically engage electorate in a culturally-relevant fashion
Twitterversion:: As California grapples with identity politics, what can be learned from #Canada, #Québec, & Bloc Québécois? http://url.ie/24zz #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: Tricot Machine -L’Ours {Montréal, QC}